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The trouble with tolerance in Uganda

From debates around Uganda’s opposition and the ruling party’s politics to debates of feminism or more recently the talk surrounding the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), everything is seemingly framed as an issue of tolerance.

Around elections, religious leaders make liberal appeals asking the public to be tolerant of divergent political views. But what exactly does tolerance entail?

From the foregoing, the trouble seems not to ensue from political or historical injustices, economic emasculation under the nefarious fangs of globalization but rather from culture. Ironically culture is naturalized. It is erected as an impenetrable curtain that politics and any emancipatory struggles cannot cross. This can be said to be the culturalization of politics. Its foremost theorist being Samuel Huntington with his famous essay “the clash of civilizations” in Foreign Affairs Magazine.

The concept of tolerance has varied conceptions but one core. It has three components as a concept, and these are objection, acceptance and rejection. Tolerance only exists if there is an objection to a way of life or an idea. For one can not tolerate that to which he or she is agreeable, amused by or indifferent towards.

Toleration is only realizable in the glare of an objection. For tolerance passes a negative judgment upon that which it objects and doesn’t eradicate the objection but merely trumps them. Rejection component froths when the limits of tolerance are crossed for example in cases of blasphemy.

It also assumes a hierarchical order i.e. permission to do that which is objectionable with the limits and dictates of the power that permits and putatively tolerates.  In essence, toleration subordinates its subjects. This may explain why many people especially around the “gay debate” would quip “I don’t have a problem with gay people, but they should not promote.”

Implicit in the discourse of the speaker is the power to grant freedom to the gays but also terms upon which the freedom must be exercised and perhaps a promise to roll back the freedom if the terms are violated. This is the permission conception. The permission conception is juxtaposed against the respect conception.

The respect conception assumes the equality of citizens in a democracy for which they should be respected to do as they wish in a multi-cultural society and their individual decisions respected even by a majority in case of minority oppression or by minorities against a majority.

But can tolerance itself be intolerant? Imagine the idea of the American invasion of Afghanistan to liberate Afghan women from the intolerance of their culture. Gayatri Spivak in her seminal article “Can the subaltern speak?” denoting the western superiority complex when she, discussing widow immolation in colonial India says, “white men were saving brown women from brown men.”

Wasn’t this what America was doing in Afghanistan? Or one must think of the world wars fought in the name of freeing Europe from the shackles of fascism and Nazism. So, what do the pro-LGBTQI activists demand when they ask for toleration.

Is it to be respected or to be permitted? I should note that the respect conception doesn’t eradicate the asymmetries of power. It is evident they demand to be permitted if one closely analyzes the discourse for example by asking whether homosexuality is Uganda’s biggest issue, they inadvertently make homosexuality an issue, albeit that should come last on a seemingly long list of maladies that bedevil the country.  

Does such toleration mean that one who objects to same-sex intimacy remains homophobic but merely refuses to act on this homophobia. Of course, it is better to have a tolerant homophobe as compared to an intolerant one. But the tolerant homophobe should not be the goal of such emancipatory struggles.

Doesn’t tolerance subsume the ire of political and armed struggles by ostensibly ossifying progress. For to tolerate lives the domain intact claiming that this is a cultural issue in a multi-cultural society. As the political theorist Wendy Brown has said “The retreat from more substantive visions of justice heralded by the promulgation of tolerance today is part of a more general depoliticisation of citizenship and power and retreat from political life itself.

The cultivation of tolerance as a political end implicitly constitutes a rejection of politics as a domain in which conflict can be productively articulated and addressed, a domain in which citizens can be transformed by their participation.”  If many years ago for Kant, tolerance was an insult then today we must be weary when marginalized groups ask to be insulted.

The author is a member of Public Square, a regional think tank and civil society organisation.


0 #1 Akot 2024-06-23 16:05
[The trouble with tolerance in Uganda]

This begins with Ugandans going along with their heartless tribal leaders, thus ensuring the deadly tribalistic system that has made Uganda Rwandese Museveni's family business!

While tribal leaders get more money, useless mps, ministers payed for doing NOTHING for Ugandans by Museveni who owns tax money, what do subjects/Ugandans get?

Who is going to get rid of Rwandese Museveni for powerless tribally divided Ugandans tolerating every inhumanity imposed on them, especially as they go for fake elections to protect Museveni legally & constitutionally?
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0 #2 Omoding 2024-06-25 12:26
Every kind of "energy" has acceptable limits beyond which there is undesirable outcome(s) to at-least one party (participant).
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